Paltry numbers of Great Grey Shrike wintering in Britain


This winter is proving to be another poor season for Great Grey Shrike in Britain, with as few as 11 birds reported since the start of December.

These reports come from 11 counties, but some of them involve one- or two-day birds, including individuals not reported since early December. Such small numbers constitute one of the worst winters for the species in Britain in recent times, with the total being only marginally better than last winter's pitiful nine birds during the same period.

So far this winter, there have been very few Great Grey Shrikes reported in Britain (Paul Daubney).

There appears to be a growing northward shift in the distribution of winter birds in Britain, demonstrated by the lack of southern English records this winter. The only one south of Mid Wales and Norfolk was a brief bird in West Sussex. Furthermore, many traditional wintering sites are devoid of shrikes this winter – and have been in other recent winters as well.

Following an increase in records during the 1990s, annual numbers of wintering Great Grey Shrikes have tailed off starkly since 2017, with below-average totals since that year. The current winter population estimate from the BTO, based on the years 2012-2017, is 98 individuals.

A map of BirdGuides reports of Great Grey Shrike from 1 December 2013-7 January 2014 (left) and from 1 December 2023-7 January 2024 (right).

According to the most recent British Birds report on scarce migrant birds in Britain, 2021 produced the lowest total of presumed new birds since monitoring of Great Grey Shrikes began in 1986, with the paper stating that "the run of poor years possibly hints at a decline".

The theory behind the decline deemed most likely is 'short-stopping' – with milder temperatures further north and east these days, the winter distribution of Great Grey Shrike could be changing, with birds reacting to the warmer climes and not migrating as far south and west during the autumn.